This article was written by 3rd-degree Roger Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Black and fitness expert Nicolas Gregoriades.
One of the questions I am often asked at seminars is "What are good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA workouts?"
I believe that the most important question you need to ask yourself when doing any training to improve your grappling is "Why am I doing this?". For example, let's say you are doing a session consisting of jumping jacks, sprints and pull-ups. Why are you doing those exercises? How will they aid you, specifically, on the mat? If you can't answer that question about your workouts or even each specific exercise, then you need to reevaluate what you're doing. Below I give a general overview of the exercises I engage in and, more importantly, why I use them.
At this point, I have found no better compliment to my jiu-jitsu training than climbing. The improvement in grip strength alone is worth the effort. After about 6 months of rock-climbing once per week I noticed a major increase in my forearm and finger strength.
A study on bone density between two control groups, one of weightlifters and one of rock climbers, found that the climbers had far higher levels of bone density. Obviously, increased bone density is invaluable to a jiu-jitsoka.
Climbing enhances strength, balance and weight distribution. What more could a jiu-jitsu fighter want? It's fun as hell too.
Best for: Grip Strength
Swimming is great for jiu-jitsu. In my opinion, it's far superior to running as a form of conditioning because there is no impact on the ankles, knees and hips. It lengthens and strengthens the muscles and opens up the back and shoulders - areas of the body which often tighten up after a lot of grappling.
It's also excellent for breath control and strengthens the heart and lungs. It promotes rhythm and, when done at a slow pace, will help with over-training and recovery.
Best for: Cardiovascular Fitness
Resistance Training with Equipment
The beauty of using equipment is that allows great control over the resistance variable of the exercise. When I use weights and kettlebells I tend to focus on compound, multi-joint movements such as full squats, barbell rows and Turkish get-ups. Using rubber cables/strands is also very effective as they more accurately simulate the tensile strength of an opponent.
Best for: Explosive Power, Muscle-specific strengthening
Gymnastic / Bodyweight Training
If you wanted to, you could get in shape to grapple without ever using a pool, weight, cable or any other equipment for that matter.
Moving the body through space using push-ups, squats and pull-ups is a challenging and effective way to build strength and/or endurance. At the more challenging end of the spectrum, gymnastic style movements such as handstands and bridging develop pretty much every attribute. The animal drills are also great for coordination and agility.
At the moment I am working with unilateral movements such as pistol squats and one-arm push-ups because I feel they offer the superior functional strength for jiu-jitsu.
Best for: Agility, Core Strength
Yoga is the most widely practised exercise system in the world. Rickson Gracie is a yoga master, and without question that plays a role in his incredible mat skills.
Regular yoga practice strengthens your muscles, massages your internal organs and calms your mind. But to me, the biggest benefit derived from yoga is flexibility. It increases lubrication of joints, ligaments and tendons and corrects muscular-skeletal imbalances that can affect your health and jiu-jitsu performance. I don't do as much yoga as I should, but when I have time I tend to prefer the more dynamic, physical styles such as Astanga.
Best for: Flexibility
I hope this has helped some of you. I would love to hear from you guys regarding the training methods you employ to make yourselves better jiu-jitsokas.